What are you detouring around or avoiding that’s wasting your valuable mental, emotional or physical energy?
“Once you realize you deserve better, letting go will be the best decision ever.” — unknown
(New to this series? Start here.)
It’s all fine and good to talk, talk, talk about getting rid of our junk of debilitating beliefs, thoughts and behaviours (as per my earlier blog posts). But I’ve learned first hand that one of the hardest things in life is letting go of what I’ve previously thought of as “real” and “right.” It’s as if in the letting go, I’m discarding some part of me. But, if I’m serious about loving the hell out of myself, it means the bad stuff has to go.
In a roundabout way, a one-eyed dog named Cyclo showed me the consequences of not letting go.
Our family adopted Cyclo—now long departed—from a kennel as damaged goods. Not unlike most dogs, the Samoyed puppy lived for his walks. We had the perfect place for off-leash strolls behind our property, through fields along the edge of a forest back to a cedar-lined stream. Never mind that Cyclo became a walking burr bush on our hikes—his thick, snow-white fur picking up seemingly every hitchhiking hanger-on along the route.
Early on in puppyhood, Cyclo had an experience that would alter the course of his life forever. Unbeknownst to us, the farmer of the lands we hiked across electrified one of the fences that Cyclo had been accustomed to ducking under to get into the next field. The effectiveness of an electric fence lies in the harmless, but sufficiently uncomfortable jolt it gives to the creatures that touch it, such that said creatures—in this case the sheep and Cyclo—will not attempt to get through a second time.
Wisely, after the shocking nip to his nose, Cyclo took a long detour to avoid the fearsome fence. About the time when Cyclo was three years old, the farmer replaced the sheep with corn. And as corn is not apt to attempt to escape its field, the farmer de-electrified his fence forever after.
However, no attempts at bribing, cajoling, pushing or pulling the now grown-up Cyclo could compel him to abandon his familiar and safe, but lengthy, energy- and time-consuming, fear-based detour around the innocuous fence that had shocked him once upon a time, long ago.
I didn’t immediately see the lesson in this. But as the years rolled on and I finally became exhausted enough from repeatedly going out of my way to avoid my own pain points, its message became clear:
Holding onto the beliefs, thoughts and behaviours that once served my then-reality but are no longer relevant—and perhaps are even severely debilitating—obstructs my way forward, my way to fulfillment and becoming all that I am.
Holding on, Cyclo took the fear-motivated detour right through to his last walk. I loved the burry, sweet, one-eyed guy, but I eventually came to the decision to not follow in his detouring paw steps for the rest of my life. The decision came when I realized that I deserve better. I deserve better than staying in an unhealthy marriage, going nowhere in my career, living on the edge of bankruptcy, rushing manically through days with too few hours, medicating myself into sleep at night, ignoring that pleading, little voice deep inside.
Over the first thirty years or so of hiking along my life path, I picked up a lot of burrs by processing a multitude of experiences as evidence that I’m unlikeable (you’re the teacher’s pet, my classmates scorned), that I’m unworthy (others deserve the recognition more than you, the woman in authority told 10-year-old me), that I don’t have what it takes (my sister is so much more talented than me).
And I was shocked by electric fences: fear of failure (I must avoid trying to be a speaker, I bombed once and it was horribly painful), fear of rejection (I must avoid putting myself out there as a writer, my work might not be accepted yet again, reconfirming I’m simply not good enough), fear of vulnerability (I must avoid being visible, I stood up for my rights in the office that one time, years ago, and I was ridiculed and yelled at), fear of success (I must avoid alienating others—when I won that award, she was so disparaging).
I now know the acquired burrs of limiting self-beliefs became my prickly suit of armour. If I diminished my own ego and stayed small and hidden, I would be protected from the humiliating ego-bashing by others. And my long detours to avoid my fear-electrified fences were coping mechanisms to keep myself safely away from the pain of shame that accompanies failure, rejection and vulnerability.
But, over time, the accumulation of those burrs made my hiking very uncomfortable and prevented my real self from emotional intimacy with others. The long, repeated detours delayed my way forward toward that gurgling brook winding peacefully through the copse of cedars.
Step by step by step along the path I came to the realization that I deserve better. Yes, I’ve made lots of mistakes and wrong decisions. I’ve tried and failed. Not everyone likes me or agrees with me. I’m not the best writer or speaker.
But none of those things, I discovered, makes me a human mistake, or a human failure. They make me human. A fallible, work-in-progress human as deserving as every other imperfect human.
I’m still picking off the burrs as I go. Just when I think I’ve found them all, I feel another prickle. I’m de-electrifying the fences as I encounter them. Sometimes it takes several tries to shut off the current. These things are life-long endeavours, I know, yet there’s an ever-increasing lightness in my step as I let go of more and more, and my way forward is becoming ever less circuitous.
Thanks, Cyclo, for teaching me the importance of letting go in order to love the hell out of myself and become unfcukwithable.
Can you identify at least one “electric fence” that you’re detouring around, and/or one “burr” that you’ve picked up that is interfering with your enjoyment of your journey? How will you deal with it?
If you want to hear about the GPS that I carry in my hiking knapsack to help me avoid the burrs and detours and stay the course, check out Part 5.